New Acquisition: A Map with a Story to Tell

A Chart of Boston Bay. Gift of Peter Kastner, 2016.0001.001

In this season of gift giving, I am featuring a gift that is one of the newest additions to our collection. A former member of our Board of Directors recently donated several items to the museum collection and this month, I have been cataloging those items.

This chart is a representation of Boston Harbor as it looked in the 18th century. The original engraving was created for an atlas entitled The Atlantic Neptune (1777) by the wonderfully named Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824). Des Barres was an English Naval Officer, well known in his day for having surveyed the entire Atlantic Coast from Florida to Labrador. According to Lewis Butler in Annals of the King's Royal Rifle Corps: Vol 1 "The Royal Americans," he was also known for his “unfortunate propensity for quarreling with everyone he met.” The framed print that was donated to the Society is a restrike of the original engraving, printed in 1870 by Boston lithographer, Augustus Meisel (1824-1885). Meisel was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1848, originally living in New York, and then moving to Boston, where he became a respected lithographer.

Lydia Withington map,1896.0053.001

We are very excited to have this print in our collection, not just because it is a beautiful chart, but also because it is closely related to another object that has been in our collection since 1896, pictured on the right. This sampler was embroidered by a Boston school girl, Lydia Withington, a pupil at Mrs. Rowson’s school, in 1799. Like Meisel’s lithograph, it is a copy of Des Barres original chart, but created in silk thread on a silk background.

Together, these very different charts provide a window into how the people of Boston understood the geography of their city – a geography that has been altered greatly in the intervening years. We are grateful to the donor of the lithograph for filling this gap in our collection.